Political articulation and accountability in decentralisation: Theory and evidence from India

New institutions created through decentralisation policies around the world, notwithstanding the rhetoric, are often lacking in substantive democratic content. New policies for decentralised natural resource management have transferred powers to a range of local authorities, including private associations, customary authorities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Scholars see such transfers as detrimental to the legitimacy of local democratic institutions, leading to a fragmentation of local authority and dampening prospects for democratic consolidation. In much of this critique, however, there is limited attention to the wider democratic context (or lack thereof) and its effect on local governments. This article develops the concept of political articulation to characterise the relationship between citizens and elected representatives, and argues that accountability in decentralisation cannot be conceptualised or analysed separately from the accountability of higher institutions of representation and governance. The empirical analysis of the article uses the experience of a World Bank-funded Ecodevelopment Project in Himachal Pradesh, India, to generate insights into the role of political articulation in analysing decentralisation reforms.